SA player’s unlucky inch

2008-02-16 00:00

RIK de Voest of South Africa pushed top seed Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia to the limit, before bowing out in the quarter-finals of the SA Airways Tennis Open in East London yesterday.

A packed centre court witnessed a thrilling match between Ljubicic and Selborne Park darling De Voest, the Croat eventually triumphing 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 6-3.

“There’s the age-old saying that tennis is a game of inches, and the close calls, especially at 6-6 in the tie-break, could have gone either way,” said De Voest, born in Milan of a Dutch father and a South African mother.

“Ivan can come up with great shots when he needs to, so on the big points he is formidable.” Ljubicic agreed that at 6-6 De Voest was almost home and dry and said the fifth seed was pumped up for a match that lasted two-and-a-half hours.

“Beating the local guy is never easy. For Rik it was a big match in front of the home crowd, but I am happy that I kept on fighting.”

Today’s semi-finals see top seed Ljubicic meeting number three Thomas Johansson of Sweden, who beat the unseeded Josselin Ouanna of France 6-2 6-4, while second seed Stefan Koubek of Austria pits his skills against sixth-seeded Frederico Gil of Portugal, who beat France’s unseeded Gary Lugassy 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-5.

De Voest was party to a high-quality contest that saw both players mixing punishing groundstrokes with delicate drop shots. The stage was set in a wonderful first game, that included a 32-shot rally and four deuces on De Voest’s serve, before the SA man came out on top.

In the first quarter-final, Koubek was given a torrid time by unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy before coming through 6-2 4-6 7-6 (7-2) in over an hour and a half.

Chardy, one of a long line of talented youngsters rolling off the conveyor belt in that country, fell apart in the tie-breaker and it was Koubek’s experience that won through. “At 6-2 4-0 it looked easy,” Koubek said. “But then I made stupid mistakes and he was serving well. In the third he played high-risk tennis with great success, so I hung in there and waited for my chance, which came in the tie-break.”

Quarter-finals:

2-Stefan Koubek (Aut) bt Jeremy Chardy (France) 6-2 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 3-Thomas Johansson (Swed) bt Josselin Ouanna (France) 6-2 6-4 1-Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) bt 5-Rik de Voest (SA) 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 6-Frederico Gil (Portugal) bt Gary Lugassy (France) 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-5

SEMI-FINALS:

2-Stefan Koubek (Aut) v 6-Frederico Gil (Por); 1-Ivan Ljubicic (Cro) v 3-Thomas Johansson (Swe).

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